Balancing creativity and cash

  • Imperial/metric electronic kitchen scales by Graham Lacy (IDE, 1986)

The need to balance creative endeavour with financial security and commercial success is a challenge shared by people working within the creative industries. Many artists and curators pursue part-time careers in order to sustain their creative practices. Sarah Douglas explains how she met the challenge.

Upon graduating I was acutely aware of the need to reconcile the financial and creative aspects of working life. How could I achieve the optimum money-work-life balance? I needed to create a working structure flexible enough to coexist with, and at times support, my own artistic practice.

I set up my own company, Exhibit-K, in partnership with another painting graduate, Mimei Thompson. Exhibit-K provides an art guiding and advisory service to those who want to gain further access to, and knowledge about, the contemporary London art scene. We aimed to capitalise on our insider understanding of the London art world.

Exhibit-K was launched 18 months before Peter Doig's White Canoe broke global auction records to become the most expensive work by a living European painter. The contemporary art market was in high spirits. There was demand for the service Exhibit-K provided from both individuals and the corporate sector. During this period we steadily built the business alongside our own artwork. To preserve our own studio time we employed other fine art graduates in a freelance capacity.

Developing Exhibit-K has been a steep learning curve, but also tremendously exciting. There are major benefits in having a ‘part-time profession’ that is deeply embedded in the art world. We work on projects and make contacts that are fruitful for our own artistic practice. We are also researching an area which we are already highly passionate about and committed to.

However, there were inherent conflicts. The more successful the company became, the more time and energy it required. Managing the demands of a young business with the quieter, slower nature of artistic practice often resulted in frustration. The business began to encroach more and more on the very studio time it had been set up to preserve. It soon became clear that we were again facing the challenge of how to balance two very different strands of our working lives.

In the current financial climate, the strain of limited resources is affecting those in the creative industries. For some, this means taking on a job that feels like a compromise. For others, the need to do more ‘money-work’ results in less studio time. In order to ride out the recession with our sense of purpose and optimism intact, more open and flexible working models are called for. I had to diversify my skills and repackage them for different niches. We cannot judge the level of our creative output only by the number of drawings we did yesterday, or how many hours we spent in the studio last week. We can also use our creative outlook to engineer innovative and unique ways of working that balance artistic endeavour and commercial necessity.